Skills Matter, Gender Doesn’t
We heard it so many times: “tech is for guys only”. At Open Summer of Code we want to break this old stereotype and show that women in tech are just as powerful as men.
At Open Summer, we already see drastic changes compared to the last year: the group of female participants is four times bigger compared to last year’s edition. Great, isn’t it? Technology is the future and it doesn’t come as a surprise that there is a growing interest in this field.
My name is Julija and for this blog post, I decided to talk to some of the female #oSoc18 students and coaches in order to learn what they think about the current situation at Open Summer of Code and in the tech industry.
While writing this blog post it became very clear that even if some girls doubted themselves or their choices, they still kept going. Marie is a great example, she told me: “I never felt that I should not choose to do this because this industry is more for men. I never thought about that. We should encourage women who are struggling with the question: ‘Should I do this? Isn’t this more of a male job?’ It’s nice to see that companies and organizations include women and encourage those who doubt themselves”.
I’m excited to see girls aren’t intimidated by all those guys in this industry. I mean, they shouldn’t be intimidated. Girls can do as much as guys can.
Nowadays, women look for the jobs with constant challenges and the possibilities to grow professionally. Danielle wanted to become a designer but quickly realized it wasn’t enough for her and she wanted more than that. Right now she has insight into both of the disciplines – design and programming. “This is how I’m able to translate my design into a working product which is pretty awesome. It is the only way that I can make something as unique as the client wishes. They only need one person instead of two and it’s something that is very desired in the technology world”, she says.
The fact that more and more schools offer ICT courses is beneficial not only to the individuals but to the whole industry since it can inspire a lot of the girls to continue their work in this field. Because of these lessons in high school, Marie-Sophie decided to learn to code. “I really liked it and wanted to know more about it. But I had no idea how to start because there was so much information on the internet. I waited until I got to the university. Also, all the other programs at the university weren’t really my thing. At school, in every project I participated, I was the only girl and always got the feeling that one of the guys didn’t trust my skills”.
Fight for what is yours!
Danielle, Lieselot and the oSoc coach Miet agree that you have to fight for your position. Most of the time, Women are underrated when it comes to programming. “We live in a world where tech is something for the boys but then here I am to prove them wrong. I will do anything to be as good as my male colleagues. Sometimes it’s appreciated, sometimes it isn’t”, says Danielle. Lieselot thinks that if women really want to do something with coding, they will do it anyway, even if there aren’t many women yet. Miet adds: “I’d say grab those opportunities, use the system and work hard until you’ve beaten it”.
There is no doubt that sometimes women are still treated with less respect or their male colleagues have less trust in them because of their gender. Some people are still shocked to see female developers. Chloe explained that when she mentions that she is a developer, people’s faces change. Sometimes they are even shocked and others assume that she can only write HTML and CSS. Lieselot was in a similar situation when someone assumed that she was a communication management student at oSoc and not a developer because she is a girl. But luckily, the majority of the women at oSoc never experienced that and they think there are more opportunities for women in tech than before. And our girls aren’t afraid to take those opportunities!
Open Summer of Code
And what about Open Summer of Code? First of all, oSoc is a very encouraging project where you feel welcomed from the very first day. There are always people to help you, coaches and other students alike. It is a good opportunity for students to get in touch with the real projects and companies. All of us understand that we have the same goal – to work on our projects and make them as successful as possible. And it isn’t important who you are, the mutual respect is much more crucial than the old stereotypes.
I don’t think gender has anything to do with a person’s skill set and performance in programming.
“You learn that tech is so much more than what you first thought. You see the products grow but also the people around you”, says Chloe. And Lisa adds: “I think this project can encourage more women because a lot of women have the impression that they will have fewer opportunities but that is history”.
Qingzhi, a Chinese student who currently studies in the Netherlands, strongly believes oSoc will provide a strong foundation in her engineering career with the emphasis on gaining hands-on experience in different fields, and she is determined to meet this challenge. On the current situation in China and the Netherlands, she commented the following: “The IT industry alongside with Data science is booming and there are many startups and many female entrepreneurs as well. Maybe there are fewer traditional types of female coders, but in other fields, many women are contributing to the technology world”.
Opportunities for Everyone
This program is good not only for the female students but for those women who already have experience and want to share their knowledge and ideas with others. Miet, the freelance graphic designer who has been an oSoc coach since 2015, says: “I learned SO MUCH. This project is close to my heart because it gave me so many opportunities in my career, and I have tons of fun each time. I literally would not be where I am now, had I not attended oSoc. My network has grown significantly and my skills level up each year. Coaching also helps me in my day job to communicate better, to work with teams and support interns”. Gwen, a new oSoc coach, told me that the reason she decided to participate is that she cares about materials that can have a beneficial impact on society by being openly available. Gwen believes oSoc has really made an effort to create balanced teams in order to ensure a ‘wide’ approach to each project.
I was glad to hear that women are positive about the future and they see more opportunities for themselves in tech than before. It is true, people become more open-minded and want inclusion and diversity. There is finally the understanding that it doesn’t matter if you are a female or a male developer, everyone can learn it. However, Miet says: “Our goal is not just to have a lot of women. We want people with different backgrounds and different points of view; to build better projects that are not just made for a small group of people but for a big group of people”.
The Future is Now
But the effort can’t be one-sided: Yes, women can develop their skills in this field but more companies have to be willing to open their doors for those talented and knowledge-hungry women who never give up. Miet thinks that a lot of the tech and coding companies are “poor” in the sense that they are not very diverse. This means they can’t think outside of the box, and can’t build something that will be used by a large and diverse group.
A diverse group of people will enrich your team, and help you build better things. Your team should represent the people you’re building for.
Of course, the situation is changing and nowadays, the companies are in need of more women in tech because there aren’t many yet. However, even this doesn’t stop some of the female developers from having doubts about their skills and abilities. “I do feel that I have to prove myself more sometimes. If something doesn’t work, guys will think that I can’t do it because I’m a woman and I don’t know enough about it”, says Lieselot. She continues: “At the beginning of the first year of my bachelor, there were guys who didn’t believe I would get through my exams and would continue the subject. But I proved them wrong, my exam results were great and they stopped judging”. Even at oSoc some changes can be made. “I think oSoc can encourage more women to learn about those things by letting women do some talks. Last year all talks were given by men (at least the ones I went to). I think hearing a woman talk with passion about those things will get us even more excited”, says Sheila.
In the upcoming years, it would be nice to see more female speakers like Chinmayi S K – the badass female developer and the founder of the Bachchao Project – a techno-feminist collective. She gave a workshop to some of the oSoc students and Julia, the Event and Community Coordinator at Open Knowledge Belgium, explained the importance of this workshop.
“For us, it was important to organize an event on diversity and inclusion as it’s a topic gaining a lot of attention, however, we noticed that only a couple of conversations and discussions reflect into action. With bringing this workshop to Open Summer of Code we wanted to offer the next generation of developers, designers and communication managers the opportunity to understand how our world is shaped, how the technology they are using and building represent the conscious and unconscious biases of our society and how that can be taken into consideration when developing technologies for the many and not the few”.
Currently, Julia is coordinating the HackYourFuture coding school for refugees in Belgium. “Recently, we started organizing coding initiations for female refugees and asylum seekers where they get a first insight into programming and are encouraged to start a career in web development”, she says.
Miet explained that diversity is one of the main goals when recruiting students and coaches. She wasn’t surprised that this edition has more female participants because “it means the efforts were worth the while but it hasn’t been easy”, says Miet. “Which is why another part of me is flabbergasted, as the first edition I was one of two women. When I see our group picture with all these amazing women in it, I feel like we’ve done a good thing, and butterflies start fluttering in my belly. We have a strong, diverse group of talented women and I’m so proud to see what they accomplish. It really exploded this year, it really warms my heart”.
This year oSoc started in Madrid there for the very first time and two women decided to participate. Virginia, the communication manager, thinks that this will change in the future because the universities and the organizations are positive about this initiative. However, in her opinion, Spain is still a man’s world regarding the tech industry. “The number of girls studying technological careers has decreased in recent years. This is a fact and if we want to change it we have to work together in order to have a different future: technology is essential for development. But things are changing quickly”, says Virginia.
What I like the most is the ability to create something unique, narrative and amazing and how that ability continues to grow year after year.
It was a very inspiring experience to talk to the women of oSoc, to see their perspective and how dedicated they are. I hope in the future more women will be involved in this project or any other similar programs. If you want to achieve something in life, don’t give up. There is enough space for everyone!
Thanks to all the cool women who helped to write this article!